Kegels can be a great exercise for strengthening your pelvic floor muscles – IF you are doing them correctly!
Three reasons to strengthen your Pelvic Floor Muscles (PFM):
1. To decrease your risk of leaking urine when coughing, sneezing, exercising, jumping, etc
2. To reduce pelvic organ prolapse symptoms (the feeling that something is falling out of your vagina) and provide better support for your pelvic organs
3. To potentially shorten the length of your labour1
Please note that kegels may not be the best exercise for you if you have pelvic pain or urinary urgency/frequency – you may want to talk with a pelvic health physiotherapist about this before starting kegels. This article is not to be taken as medical advice and meant for general information purposes only for those who would like to be able to check if they are doing a kegel correctly.
Besides seeing a pelvic health physiotherapist, how can YOU check at home if you are doing a kegel correctly?
Option 1: Check with your own fingers (for those with a vagina)
Insert one or two clean fingers into your vagina (up to about the second or third knuckle). Optionally do this with some lubrication for increased comfort.
When you do a kegel, you should feel your fingers being squeezed and “lifted” up in the direction of your pubic bone
Option 2: Use a mirror (for those with a penis/scrotum)
If you stand with your pants off in front of a mirror, you should see your scrotum lifting up and penis retracting slightly when you do a kegel
Option 3: Sit on your hand
This can be done with or without your pants on
Sit on your hand with your fingers resting on your perineum (the spot between your anus and vagina/scrotum)
When you do a kegel, you should feel this spot lifting up away from your fingers. It will be a small movement. As you let go, you should feel it drop back towards your fingers
If you are not comfortable sitting on your hand, you can also place a rolled up towel in the same spot. Observe for the feeling of your perineum lifting away from the towel.
If you’re still not sure…
Option 4: Stop your pee when urinating
This should ONLY be done on occasion to test your ability to do contract your PFM correctly, and NOT as a regular exercise
If you are doing a kegel correctly, you will be able to stop the flow of your pee
Try and remember what it felt like to do this and replicate this feeling with one of the above options, so your body gets feedback in multiple ways about how to contract your PFM
With ALL of the above options, you should NOT be:
Contracting your stomach or bum muscles. No one should be able to tell that you’re doing a kegel when you’re doing one properly!
Needing to hold your breath to do a kegel
Sucking in your tummy
Having difficulty doing a kegel correctly?
You can try these cues to see if it helps:
Imagine stopping the flow of pee
Imagine pulling a blueberry into your vagina (Fun fact: this is how Blueberry Therapy got its name ;)
Think “nuts to guts” for those with a scrotum
If you are using your own fingers for biofeedback, really concentrate on squeezing your fingers and lifting them up
How often should I do them?
This will vary depending on the person and situation. Assuming no pelvic health concerns, you can approach it like you would with other muscles of the body, where you may do strengthening exercises 2-4 days/week.
Doing a mix of slow contract & holds (e.g. 3 sets of 10 repetitions, where 1 rep = you hold the contraction for 10 sec) and fast reps (e.g. 3 sets of 10 repetitions, where 1 rep = contract as quickly as you can and fully let go) is ideal to exercise all the muscle fiber types of the PFM. You do not need to be trying to contract and hold your PFM throughout the whole day, just as you would not do that with your biceps if you wanted to get your biceps stronger!
1Du Y, Xu L, Ding L, Wang Y, Wang Z. The effect of antenatal pelvic floor muscle training on labor and delivery outcomes: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Int Urogynecol J. 2015 Oct;26(10):1415-27. doi: 10.1007/s00192-015-2654-4. Epub 2015 Feb 25. PMID: 25711728